NLL Preview: Bandits looking to regroup from NLL Finals loss

PHOTO BY CANDICE WARD/NLL PHOTOS

Matt Dunn (33) and Tyler Digby (23) console goalie Matt Vinc after losing to Calgary in Game 2 of the NLL FInals.


The countdown to the NLL season is upon us, as the season kicks off Nov. 29. Check back to uslaxmagazine.com as we roll out our season preview — including Jack Goods’ predictions, team-by-team capsules and additional features. First up, a look at the Buffalo Bandits.

Buffalo Bandits

Head coach: John Tavares (2nd season)
2018-19 record: 14-4 (first in East Division)
Playoff finish: Lost in NLL Finals

Overview

The Buffalo Bandits had the look of a team destined to win a title during points of last season.

At 14-4, the Bandits were two games ahead of any other team in the league during the regular season, backed by always playoff-ready goalie Matt Vinc and a balanced offensive attack. It appeared Buffalo got a bit of a break, too, as the top two seeds in the West Division were knocked out prior to the NLL Finals.

But the Calgary Roughnecks put an end to Banditland’s dreams of a fifth title in franchise history, stunning Buffalo in two games in the championship series. Now, the team looks to regroup with a change in the coaching staff and with a few roles to fill on the offensive end.

What’s new

The Bandits' two-headed coaching situation lasted only one season, as Rich Kilgour’s contract was not renewed. That means league legend John Tavares is the lone head man behind the bench, while the defense will be run by GM Steve Dietrich.

Buffalo added the biggest riser of the draft in Brent Noseworthy, a former midfielder at Michigan and a former box goalie who switched to defense. It may take some time for him to make a real impact on the floor, though.

Overall, there wasn’t much to willingly change after the success of last season, especially when considering the flurry of moves the Bandits made last offseason.

What’s gone

Buffalo knew the expansion draft was going to hurt, and that it did when the Bandits lost a pair of capable scorers. Shawn Evans, who had the look of an MVP candidate at times last season and a player with a foot out the door in others, is now a franchise building block in Rochester. Jordan Durston, a critical depth piece and force near the crease, is a Black Wolf after a trade from New York.







What’s the same

Matt Vinc is still Matt Vinc, even as he moves into his late 30s. The 37-year-old earned his record seventh Goaltender of the Year award last season after leading the league in goals against average and finishing second in save percentage.

While replacing the production of Evans and Durston is easier said than done (the pair combined for 141 points), the team returns nearly the rest of the offense. The unit is led by Dhane Smith, who finished first in the league with 70 assists and is fresh off signing a contract extension.

What could they use

More production from former No. 1 overall pick Josh Byrne, who was limited to just nine games last season due to injury. Thankfully for the Bandits, he was well on pace to best his rookie totals, so a return to health should bring big results.

Biggest question

Who steps up on offense? There are a couple likely candidates, including the aforementioned Byrne. A full training camp with the team and a year under his belt could mean a step forward for Chris Cloutier, who was surprisingly traded in his rookie season. Thomas Hoggarth was stellar last year, and it was only his first in the NLL as a full-time forward. Buffalo has also been high on Dallas Bridle since his drafting, and he’ll likely get his first decent look this season.

MVP Watch

Matt Vinc

The veteran goalie made a serious case for winning the award in his first year with the team, helping the Bandits transform from a playoff hopeful to a title favorite.

Verdict

Buffalo is a safe bet to make it back to the playoffs, but another NLL Finals trip isn’t a shoo-in.

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